Depression is a mental illness which affects as many as 1 in 6 people at any time in their life.
Everyone has spells of feeling sad or low but depression is much more than that. Periods of depression can persist for weeks or months.
Depression can affect everything – it can change the way you think and feel, it can affect the way you eat and sleep, and you may feel sad for no reason at all. Some people will forget things or have difficulty concentrating, while others will feel chronically exhausted.
It can eat up and spit out the most confident and bubbly of people, changing them beyond recognition. It can make you withdrawn and terrified of life, or it can make you lash out against those you love the most.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Because the symptoms of depression develop gradually and affect different people in different ways, it may be that you notice something is wrong with a loved one or friend before they do.
If someone you care about has been experiencing some of the following symptoms continuously for more than two weeks, please urge them to see their GP:
Low mood – sadness – guilt – no motivation – no hope anxiety – feeling helpless – loss in interest in things you usually enjoy change in appetite (over eating or no interest in food) no energy – change in sleeping habits (over sleeping or not getting any sleep) – irritability – low self-esteem – low tolerance – crying for no apparent reason – indecisive – avoiding contact with friends and family – lack of interest in sex – finding difficulties at work suicidal thoughts thoughts of harming yourself.
What you can do to help
Take care of yourself. That may sound odd but if you’re not feeling emotionally strong yourself, you may find supporting someone through depression overwhelming.
Some of the feelings you may be dealing with yourself are feelings of guilt, fear, anger, resentment, frustration, sadness and helplessness. It is normal for you to feel like this and vitally important that you too have a support network to help you through these feelings.
Depression is a hard illness to explain to someone who has never had it. Familiarise yourself with the symptoms and remember it is an illness. An illness which makes it hard for those suffering to connect with others so try not to take it personally if the person you care about seems distant and uninterested.
Try not to let depression be the elephant in the room. Those who have depression feel as though they are a burden. Encouraging them to talk and listening without judgement is a big help to someone who is isolating themselves. You may find that the person you care about may clam up, seem defensive but gently persist, express your concern and make them aware that you are willing to listen when they are ready to talk. Often, advice is not what they are after, just a friendly ear.
Avoid flippant comments such as ‘just pull yourself together’, ‘snap out of it’, ‘what have you got to be depressed about?’ or ‘why are you being so lazy, get out of bed?’ If the person with depression could click their fingers and change, they would. Talk as though you are a team and understand that the everyday things you take for granted have suddenly become mountains to climb for a person with depression. Reassure them every step of the way that you are there for them, that they are doing well to face challenges such as going to appointments and also that depression has not changed the way you feel about them.
Be honest. The fear of upsetting someone with depression is great but for the person who has depression, knowing that someone is treading on eggshells around you is also uncomfortable. If you feel upset by something someone you care about has done, it is always better to approach the subject than let the anger build up inside you. Built up anger not only leads to resentment but could lead to the problem escalating and you may express your anger in a damaging way.
Set an example to the person you care about by eating well, avoiding alcohol and drugs and exercising. It may be that you live with someone with depression and notice that they aren’t eating or that the food that they are eating isn’t very balanced nutritionally. Consider making healthier meals for them as it could be a lack of motivation or appetite preventing them from doing that themselves. Help with chores and other tasks if they’ll let you to relieve some of the pressure on the person you care about.
Take time out. Supporting someone through depression is by no means easy. At times you will need to dig deep to show patience, compassion and unconditional love to someone who is negative, despondent and moody. You may find that you feel exhausted, taken for granted and emotionally drained. This is often when you need to take a bit of a step back and make time for you. Seek support from other friends and family, do something you enjoy and don’t feel bad about doing so. You are not being selfish. You will find it hard to offer encouragement and support if you aren’t feeling well yourself.
However, if you feel as though the person you care about is considering suicide, you must not leave them alone and must seek professional help immediately such as from the emergency services on 999 or The Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.
There are some warning signs you’ll need to be aware of:
Self-hate – getting affairs in order – hoarding pills or other lethal objects – acting in a reckless, dangerous way – self- destructive behaviour – talk about suicide, self-harming or dying – a developed interest in death.